If Keith fired Mick and decided to let Tina Turner front the band with Gram Parsons riding shotgun, they would sound a lot like Queen Esther. – CDBaby.com
Album cover shot for Talkin’ Fishbowl Blues
INTERVIEW BY RAPHIE FRANK
You grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. And now you’re in New York making your career as a vocalist, actor and writer. What brought you here?
You have to understand the myth that is New York. It’s like the Emerald City. I can remember wanting to live in New York when I was very very little. I can remember watching old Saturday Night Lives with John Belushi and seeing the beginning and seeing little pieces of New York and thinking “I want to live there. I want that energy.” Watching things from the Harlem Renaissance and thinking “I want to be a part of that.”
It’s hard though because it’s so much worse when you’re imagining how horrible it can be. When you’re living in a little town and all you have to go by is Scorsese movies and the rude people you meet that come through and all the stories you hear about how expensive it is and how everything smells like urine – you can intimidate yourself out of even coming for an extended visit.
But you came here. How did you get past that intimidation factor?
I put the fear of not fulfilling my destiny, of carrying regret around for my whole life before the fear of living in New York. I didn’t want to have to say “What if.” I didn’t want to have to live with the idea that I could have done something wonderful if I’d just gone to New York.
When did you come to New York?
I came to New York from Austin, Texas in the early 90’s. After college.
And you came to be a superstar?
I think I already am a superstar! The question is whether or not everyone else is going to find out about it. I’d like to, you know, I’d like to take my little arrow and shoot it into the air and I want it to go as far as it possibly can. If I hit something, hooray, but if I don’t, hey, at least I came to New York and I tried.
MORE GOTHAMIST INTERVIEWS by Raphie Frank
Whether his subject be barely clad heavy metal groupies, bloody wrestlers, flaming haired psychos, 50 Cent, or Barbara Walters, photographer David Yellen (www.davidyellen.com) is uncompromising in his devotion to the hard, jagged, sometimes hyperextended essence of real. His photos have appeared in such diverse publications as Details, Spin, Time, Forbes, Life & Cosmosgirl. Gothamist spoke with David recently about a few of his favorite and not so favorite things spanning underweared parents in Queens, tornadoes and bare-titted chicks in Indiana, and soon-to-be-puking Gotham marathoners.
What do you like most about what you do?
I like that I have a lot of freedom. People usually only hire me for what I do, so I can take on my [commercial] subjects like I would any of my personal work. That’s the most exciting thing.
If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I’d probably either be working for my family, doing some weird fashion job, or – how’s this for a bold statement? – I might be dead. Because at the point where I discovered photography was during a very bad rough time. I was at a crossroads. And photography just pulled me right out of it. It saved my life and soul.
Speaking of your parents, is it true you photographed them in their underwear?
Not only did I photograph them in their bedroom in their underwear, I’ve also photographed them in their bathroom. Hanging out, putting on makeup, sitting on the toilet…
Don’t you think people might think that’s, like, maybe a little bit… weird?
It’s not work I show everybody. But it’s part of the whole story. I started photographing my family as a way of being able to be around them. Because at the time I started photography I didn’t have the greatest relationship with them. So it was a middle ground where once or twice a week I would come over and take photos and we would be able to be around each other. It put me in a position of power over them in a way that levelled the playing field.
You’ve been photographing them for a while now…
More than ten years. Over time they’ve become convinced that they’ll become famous from the photographs. Now they pretty much do anything I say. I went so far as to interrupt Thanksgiving dinner last year by doing super close head shots of everyone as soon as they finished their meals. So, they’re all a little queasy and a little spaced out. And here I am five inches away from their faces with giant flashes and big cameras telling them not to move.
A baker’s dozen of my favorite Interviews conducted for Gothamist.com
#13 Reverend Billy, Street Preacher, The Church of Stop Shopping (with Mindy Bond) – The anti-globalist hood Reverend on Starbucks mermaids who want their nipples back, death by latte and the first amendment.
#12 Michelle Madge, Glassblower – Glory Holes and what Glassblowers do for kicks when no one’s around.
#11 Robert Margolis, Filmmaker – The Definition of Insanity writer, director and star reflects on psychoanalysis and his autobiographically inspired faux documentary following the trials and tribulations of the fictional Robert Margolis as he seeks fame and fortune.
#10 Queen Esther, Unemployed Superstar – Southern girl comes to the big Emerald city of Gotham to make good.
#9 Todd Solondz, Filmmaker (with Mindy Bond) – Infamous director of the weird, wacky and sick talks to Gothamist about his latest film Palindromes dealing with issues of child abuse, abortion and the Far Right.
#8 Mitch Borden, Small’s and Fat Cat Jazz Club “Owner” – Jazz as way of life and imagination. Mitch talks of turtles, magical deserts, Ken dolls and a Pizza world where Pizzas go to People Parlors where they can eat real people.
#7 Teresa Fabik, Swedish Filmmaker seeking Gotham inspiration – Scandinavian girl comes to the city to explore the blue spot in her aura, and to hang with Germans named Helga.
#6 “Tyme,” Writer, former inmate Attica Penitentiary – “Tyme,” reformed bad boy and writer, recounts much much darker days.
#5 James Rowe, DJ, Musician, Dreamer of Dreams – James, a self pronounced “surrealist motherfuckin’ devil,” holds forth on him, the other him, and Pataphysics.
#4 Ira Elliot, Drummer, Nada Surf – Golden ball and chains, and dreams of Conan and Pete Best. Ira on Ira.
#3 Leo Kowalski, 92, Retired Elevator Operator – Anti-misceginist views, watching Pearl Harbor on TV, the scourge of Williamsburg hipsters, and more.
#2 Ralph Baker, (refusing to be) Blind Photographer – Ralph talks of losing his vision and repeated jousts with the police and mental health authorities over the course of 40 years as a street photographer.
#1 Louis Alvarado, U.S. Citizen – Louis tells of a harrowing journey from El Salvador to the United States undertaken to escape conscription into a rebel movement.
COMPLETE INTERVIEW LIST
November 28, 2005 Raphie Frank, Interview Retrospective
October 25, 2005 Kerry Shapleigh, Foreign Service Brat, maybe Lifer
October 22, 2005 Thomas Yong, Producer Tie a Yellow Ribbon
October 18, 2005 David Yellen, Photographer
September 10, 2005 Ralph Baker, (refusing to be) Blind Photographer
September 08, 2005 Anthony Bregman, Producer Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
September 07, 2005 Andrew Kling, Seeking Katrina Relief Volunteers
September 06, 2005 Leo Kowalski, 92, Retired Elevator Operator
July 29, 2005 Ryan Curry, Model & Aspiring Actor
July 28, 2005 Michelle Madge, Glassblower
July 27, 2005 James Rowe, DJ, Musician, Dreamer of Dreams
July 25, 2005 Lisa Selin Davis, Author “Belly”
July 11, 2005 Leonard Abrams, Documentary Filmmaker, Founder East Village Eye
June 16, 2005 Michael Carter, Poet, East Village Homesteader
June 15, 2005 Ira Elliot, Drummer, Nada Surf
June 14, 2005 Teresa Fabik, Swedish Filmmaker Seeking Gotham Inspiration
June 13, 2005 Lezly Ziering, Skate Teacher & Founder Central Park Dance Skater’s Association
May 06, 2005 Queen Esther, Unemployed Superstar
May 05, 2005 Mitch Borden, Small’s and Fat Cat Jazz Club “Owner”
May 04, 2005 Leslie Hawke, Outstanding U.S. Citizen
May 03, 2005 Elana Levin, Community Organizer & Williamsburg Warrior
May 02, 2005 Darrell Shines, Producer of Anything
April 13, 2005 Todd Solondz, Filmmaker
March 18, 2005 Melissa Caruso-Scott, Co-Owner Tonic
March 17, 2005 Guerrilla Girls On Tour
March 16, 2005 Murtaza Vali, Graduate Student
March 15, 2005 Erica Soehngen, Documentary Filmmaker
March 14, 2005 Louis Alvarado, U.S. Citizen
February 11, 2005 Noemie LaFrance, Site-Specific Choreographer
February 10, 2005 Piotr “Ski” Jagninski, Gaffer/Best Boy
February 09, 2005 Jamye Waxman, Sex Educator
February 08, 2005 The Duplass Brothers, Filmmakers
February 07, 2005 Rev. Stephen C. Robinson, Psychic Consultant and Executive Director, Holistic Studies Institute
January 07, 2005 Kevin So, Musician
January 06, 2005 Erica Payne, Political Strategist
January 05, 2005 Nava Lubelski, Artist and Author “The Starving Artist’s Way”
January 04, 2005 Eugene Hernandez, Editor-in-Chief, indieWIRE
January 03, 2005 “Tyme,” Writer, former inmate Attica Penitentiary
December 03, 2004 Tristan Eaton, Graffiti Artist, Illustrator & Toy Designer
December 02, 2004 Robert Margolis, Filmmaker
December 01, 2004 Ida Dupont, Professor of Criminal Justice, Women’s Advocate
November 30, 2004 Dave Gorman, Storyteller and Comedian
November 29, 2004 Ricardo Dominguez, Artist and Electronic Civil Disobedience Pioneer
October 29, 2004 Andrew Boyd, Cultural Activist and Founder, Billionaires for Bush
October 28, 2004 Michelle Collins, Director and Spokeswoman, Votergasm.org
October 27, 2004 Sharif Corinaldi, Political Activist/Founder, SwingtheState.org
August 27, 2004 Sam Seder, Director, Writer, Comedian, Co-Host, “The Majority Report”
August 26, 2004 Kyp Malone, Guitarist, TV on the Radio
August 25, 2004 Adam Shore, General Manager, VICE Records
August 24, 2004 Reverend Billy, Street Preacher, The Church of Stop Shopping
August 23, 2004 Priscilla Grim, Membership & Advocacy Director AIVF
…and a grand nod to Mr. Andrew Krucoff who pioneered the entire Gothamist Interview (aka “Young Manhattanite”) Series.
…who graciously covered open interview slots on more than one occasion along with still current Gothamists Jen Chung & Tien Mao, who saved at least my a** on a couple occasions and sole remaining Interviewer, Rachel Kramer Bussel. Oh, and then, of course, there’s me Raphie Frank:: business artivist.